Episode 101. Gradus Duel (2)

Raiden Laylark looked as though he would immediately rush towards him, sword blazing in a multicolored light, but he remained still. To be exact, it was not that he didn’t move, but rather that he was frozen in place.

What the hell…

Only a year had passed since their trial by combat. Raiden Laylark had vowed to avenge his defeat, and he swung his sword day and night in an effort to improve. As a result, his Gradus had risen from 90 all the way to 79. He had proven his abilities through countless duels, while his opponent, the Drake Knight, had passively reached Gradus 78 through no accomplishments of his own.

It was natural for him to be confident in the event of a rematch. After all, he never believed he lost their previous duel as a result of a difference in skill.

However, such thoughts were completely erased from his mind the moment the Drake Knight raised his lance. The briefest glance at his opponent’s indifferent eyes made him imagine being completely overwhelmed, skewered by the giant lance.

Under this terrible pressure, Raiden Laylark’s arms grew stiff, and his body froze in place.

He tried to convince himself that he was hesitating out of caution, but this proved unsuccessful. He was not being careful, but was rather terrified.

And what about his opponent? 

Despite being a knight in name only, the Drake Knight arrogantly looked down at him as though he was completely insignificant. Raiden Laylark grew angry at this unwavering gaze, but the more he did, the more he also felt intimidated.

He was completely overwhelmed before the duel even began.

Seon-Hyeok had honed his skills in the chaos of the battlefield, where life and death were decided in an instant. As such, he was naturally sensitive to the slight changes in his opponent’s demeanor.

‘The knights’ swords are rusty, and the mages’ mouths are sealed.’

It was at this moment that he truly understood what Marquis Reinhardt had told him. And with this realization came the understanding that this current duel would be of no help to him.

Seon-Hyeok raised his lance, and he pointed the tip at Raiden Laylark, still stiff and unable to move.

“Wind Piercing.”

At the brief command, wind wrapped around the body of his weapon before shooting towards his opponent.

Just like that, the duel ended.

“Don’t let me catch you gossiping behind my back again.”

The Seon-Hyeok who struggled to fend off the Sword of Lightning no longer existed in this world.

***

Rumors of the second defeat of the Judge of House Laylark, the Sword of Lightning, at the hands of the Drake Knight quickly spread throughout the capital.

“I heard it was a terrible defeat. Knight Laylark was unable to swing his sword once, and he was overwhelmed by his opponent from the start.”

“That’s not all. If the Drake Knight hadn’t been considerate, Knight Laylark would have died on the spot, pierced through by that massive lance. He’s been made to shut his mouth after all that denying of his earlier defeat.”

The nobles spoke about the duel between the Judge of House Laylark and the Drake Knight whenever they gathered.

“Is the Sword of Lightning that weak? Or is the Drake Knight strong?”

People expressed their confusion over the single-sided outcome of the confrontation between the knights with the 78th- and 79th-ranked Gradus. Soon, they had their answer.

‘Drake Knight! A dominating victory over the knight with Gradus 74!’

Having defeated Raiden Laylark, the Drake Knight claimed victory against another knight with Gradus.

‘The Iron Wall, Knight Roengram, has been defeated by the Drake Knight! The Drake Knight’s Gradus has increased to 69!’

The Drake Knight’s Gradus duels did not end there. Having defeated the 74th-ranked Gradus knight, he immediately challenged, and defeated, the Iron Wall, the 69th-ranked knight. He then defeated the 65th and 61st-ranked knights, further demonstrating his abilities.

These repeated victories were proof of the Drake Knight’s true strength, and now, none questioned whether the result of his duel with the Sword of Lightning was a result of Raiden Laylark’s weakness or the Drake Knight’s strength.

“The Drake Knight has challenged Romero, the Viscount of Blood and Iron, to a duel!”

This new rumor quickly spread like wildfire to all corners of the capital, and everyone became excited by this potential duel of the century.

‘Senior Knight and member of the Royal Knights, Viscount of Blood and Iron, Joshua Romero, Gradus 52.’

His opponent this time was a truly powerful individual ranked 52nd in terms of Gradus, a master swordsman nicknamed the Viscount of Blood and Iron. He overwhelmed countless knights himself and was on a different level compared to the knights Seon-Hyeok had defeated so far.

“He’s gone completely insane. I think he grew overconfident and arrogant after those few victories. To think that he would challenge the Viscount of Blood and Iron.”

“If the Drake Knight actually wins, it’d be a huge story!”

The people were divided on whether the Drake Knight’s decision to challenge such an individual stemmed from bravery or recklessness, and in this process, they all forgot about the first duel between Seon-Hyeok and Raiden Laylark.

However, even after some time passed, there was no new news regarding the duel between the Drake Knight and the Viscount of Blood and Iron. In fact, nothing was revealed even after the Drake Knight finished his remaining business at the capital and left for his territory in the west.

As such, the citizens began to believe that the duel between the two was just a false rumor.

The magazine published following Seon-Hyeok’s departure from the capital shocked all of its readers.

‘Western Army, Earl of Rheinperle, Dragon Rider Seon-Hyeok Rheinperle Kim Drachen, Gradus 52.’

The results of the duel between the Knight of Blood and Iron and the Drake Knight, previously considered to be just rumors, were clearly taken into consideration in the latest Gradus rankings.

“There has to be a witness to the duel! If we find him, we’ll be able to hear what the duel was like!”

The people all desperately searched for the one who oversaw the Gradus duel. Not long after, they discovered who it was.

“What’s so interesting about it?”

The witness everyone looked for was none other than the person ranked 4th in Gradus: Marquis Reinhardt, the head of the Royal Knights. However, none of the nobles dared approach the marquis, not only because of his standing as nobility, but also because of the respect they had for his abilities with the sword.

“I didn’t think the princess would be so interested in the conflicts between the crude knights.”

But even Marquis Reinhardt had to answer to Princess Ophelia.

“The first duel ended in a clear loss for Earl Drachen. However, the Viscount of Blood and Iron wasn’t satisfied with his victory.”

The marquis was forced to give a detailed account for the duel to the princess.

“And so, the Viscount of Blood and Iron suggested that Earl Drachen fight while mounted on his drake. He thought it’d only be a true victory for him if he fought his opponent while he was at full strength.”

“Oh? So what happened?”

At the urging of the princess, Marquis Reinhardt replied in a slightly admiring tone.

“Earl Drachen on his drake is a completely different person from his dismounted self.”

“Is Earl Drachen’s fighting prowess that impressive?”

The princess asked, her eyes glittering. The marquis added one last comment.

“I guarantee you that there are very few, even among the senior knights, capable of defeating Earl Drachen on his drake.”

***

Around the same time that the capital was up in arms over the results of the duel, Seon-Hyeok was almost back at Rheinperle.

“Ugh. I think I’m going to die.”

“So why were you being so ambitious with your rankings anyways? You never showed an interest in it before.”

Julian berated Seon-Hyeok as he lay on the wagon and groaned in pain.

“I didn’t think that the gap in strength would be so massive. There are only a few spots separating them in the rankings.”

“The senior knights are the true strength of the royal family. It’s no wonder you’re in such pain after looking down on them.”

It seemed as though he momentarily lost the ability to think rationally after his repeated victories. Seon-Hyeok truly regretted his arrogance in wanting to test his abilities by defeating a senior knight.

“The Sword of Lightning beat a senior knight too. And also, former Company Commander Frederick never looked that strong either.”

It was not as though he lacked an excuse. He had defeated Raiden Laylark, who, in turn, had defeated a senior knight in the past. He never considered his former company commander, Frederick Sildorf, to be particularly threatening despite his status as a senior knight.

“There’s a difference between those who reached the position of senior knight by accumulating accomplishments throughout their careers and those who did so through their proficiency with the sword. Both Sir Frederick Sildorf and the senior knight who lost to the Sword of Lightning are among the former, while the Viscount of Blood and Iron falls under the latter.”

“Why are you telling me that now? If I had known that earlier, I wouldn’t have done something so insane.”

“I clearly remember trying to dissuade you several times. You were the one being stubborn.”

Then again, he had been so confident at the time that he did not listen to the advice of those around him. He doubted there would be a significant gap in strength considering the relative closeness of their Gradus.

But when he actually fought the Viscount of Blood and Iron, Seon-Hyeok realized that his opponent was terrifyingly strong. His lance, imbued with the strength of the attributes, was ineffective against the viscount’s sword energy, and the Wind Piercing ability he had so much faith in, as well as his other skills, were unable to break through the knight’s defenses.

In the end, he was completely defeated in their first duel. However, the viscount stated that he would not be satisfied until the outcome of the duel was unequivocally decided, and suggested he fight while mounted.

At that point, Seon-Hyeok quickly overcame his frustration and defeatist feelings. He gathered his fighting spirit, climbed onto Goldrake, and dueled once again.

And after a hard-fought battle, he barely managed to pull out a victory.

“I was crazy. How did I have the nerve to challenge Marquis Reinhardt before?”

It was then that he realized how ignorant he had been when he attacked and aggravated Marquis Reinhardt. After all, the marquis was on an entirely different level from the viscount he struggled to defeat.

“Well, there are some things you can’t understand without experiencing in person.”

Seon-Hyeok laughed at his young squire’s sage-like advice. He belatedly made a fuss, remembering he had forgotten something important.

“Sir Trail. Is there anything bothering you?”

“No, there isn’t.”

Asha Trail was someone he barely managed to pry away from the royal family using the favor promised by the princess. As such, he could not help but pay close attention to her. Fortunately, Asha Trail was self-reliant, and despite being a noble knight of the kingdom, she did not complain about the pains of travel.

“Will it be much longer?”

The real problem was the mage, Aria Eisen. She was incapable of riding horses and had never travelled long distances, and she even complained while moving in relative comfort aboard the cart. Seon-Hyeok wondered how many times he had heard the exact same question during this journey.

However, Seon-Hyeok could not express his anger. Aria Eisen was pale and looked like she was about to die.

It was at this moment that Seon-Hyeok truly understood how physically frail mages could be.

“We’re almost there now.”

Despite not being in optimal condition himself, Seon-Hyeok straightened up and tried to comfort the mage. He soon turned his head, hearing the sound of hooves from afar.

“My lord!”

Jackson and the cavalry saw their lord and rushed over. They looked to be on the verge of tears.

The Rheinperle territory had developed beyond recognition during the half-year he was away. This was all the work of Antoine Montaigne.

“You’ve done well.”

“Can you really say that I’ve done well, when all I’ve done was sit behind a desk and scribble with a pen? It’s you who suffered, fighting on the battlefield.”

The old scholar looked much older now than when Seon-Hyeok first met him. Regardless of what he said, it was clear that he had worked hard this entire time. After all, since there was only one proper official overseeing the entire Rheinperle territory, the burden he carried was immense.

“In the near future, the royal family will send experts and craftsmen here to help develop the territory. Let’s just hang in there for a bit longer.”

Seon-Hyeok apologetically spoke out, but Antoine Montaigne waved him off, saying an apology was not necessary. The old man then immediately greeted Asha Trail and Aria Eisen before skillfully arranging for their accommodations to be prepared.

“My lord. I know you must be tired from your travels, but there is something else.”

Antoine Montaigne generally did his best to keep his reports brief, but for some reason, he kept Seon-Hyeok there for a bit longer.

“Do you have something to tell me?”

“Recently, there have been strange rumors about the Rheinperle River. Some have mentioned seeing a monster there, while others speak about how the water levels change unpredictably from day to day. The territory’s people are worried that this is an ominous sign.”

The old scholar informed him that the mood in the territory was down due to the reports of the river monster.

“You were benevolent in giving people the freedom to fish, but it has actually become a detriment given these rumors. Please quickly get to the bottom of the matter and take proper measures…”

“I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about this.”

Seon-Hyeok confidently reassured Antoine Montaigne. After all, he was certain that the monster in question was none other than Bluegon.

He immediately checked his status window to see Bluegon’s condition and frowned.

-          Discontent, discontent, discontent, discontent, discontent, discontent, discontent…

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